What is CC41 Clothing? The Amazing History of Utility Clothing

  • Post category:Fashion

One of the most sought after vintage fashion styles today is CC41 clothing. What was a range of garments created in wartime to be simple and strong through practical necessity are now star items at vintage shops, fairs and here at the Discover Vintage Marketplace too. 

CC41 clothing shows that fashion doesn’t need to be elaborate or ornate to stand out. It also proves that quality lasts when you consider people are still wearing these items nearly 80 years after their manufacture. And in a time when we need to reduce, reuse and recycle for very different reasons, this seems like a good opportunity to delve into the fashion archives to find out more about the scheme and how it helped to keep the nation looking good in the most efficient way possible during the Second World War. 

CC41 clothing
A model in an Atrima utility dress

So what is CC41 clothing and what was the utility clothing scheme? Keep reading to find out about this vintage fashion icon.   

What is Utility Clothing?

Utility clothing, or CC41 clothing, is a range of garments from between 1941 and 1952, during the time in which there was clothes rationing in the UK. Not only was sourcing materials difficult because the authorities diverted so many to the war effort, but manufacturers also had to deal with a shortage of labour, with many workers heading off to fight. 

People still needed clothes, though. With money and supplies tight, they needed outfits that would be robust while looking smart, and which wouldn’t break the bank. The solution was to require manufacturers to produce 40 utility cloths that would not take vital materials from the front. This included types of wool, cotton, rayon and locknit. Manufacturers had to make sure 85% of their output consisted of utility cloth. This was tailored using a standard method that wasted as little material as possible on each design. The additional 15% of production could use any other material, but the strict tailoring restrictions still applied. 

The government tasked manufacturers with mass-producing garments from a limited number of simple, good quality lines, which were exempt from the new purchase tax on luxury goods. This meant that the less well-off could afford clothes created to a high standard and businesses could meet the demand more easily because they required a simpler production line than previously. 

You can identify utility clothing by the distinctive and now iconic CC41 label, designed by Reginald Shipp. This is the mark that vintage-lovers look for when seeking out utility clothing to this day. Understandably, it became known as ‘the cheeses’ at the time. 

CC41 Logo

CC41 Utility Clothing Styles

Just because the government placed restrictions on CC41 utility clothing does not mean that the items weren’t stylish. The authorities tasked members of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers (IncSoc), including clothiers to the royals, Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies, with producing 34 designs that encompassed everything from underwear to overcoats. 

Hartnell had been worried about how creating CC41 clothes would affect his work with the Queen. However, she is said to have reassured him, telling him “you have made so many charming things for me, that if you could do likewise for my countrywomen, I think it would be an excellent thing to do.” This led the way for Berkertex to release a collection of Hartnell-designed dresses that are still much-admired to this day. 

IncSoc concentrated on simple and elegant lines that created a tailored silhouette for wearers. Recognisable CC41 utility clothing designs include short, boxy jackets and straight skirts with a hemline that is situated just below the knee, featuring a gentle flare or kick pleat. There were also utility clothing lines for children and men, who found that suits became two-piece rather than three-piece, with waistcoats deemed surplus to requirements. 

Utility clothing
Utility clothing – underwear

Restrictions for Utility Clothing

The disappearance of waistcoats was not the only utility clothing restriction. Whilst clothes makers made every effort to create good looking clothes, there were rules in place to make sure there was as little waste as possible. 

This meant that some garments, like coats, that might normally feature two rows of buttons, could only sport one row. There were no more turnback cuffs, there were limits on pockets and seams, a restriction on the amount of stitching and absolutely no unnecessary decoration. For men, double breasted suits were out, as were pocket flaps and turn-ups, which caused a great amount of consternation.

There were even regulations on the height of shoe heels, all in an effort to make the most of the materials available in the country’s time of need. 

CC41 Clothing For Sale Today

CC41 clothing is extremely desirable today and it is easy to see why, given its fascinating history. If you want to add one of these items to your vintage wardrobe, simply type “CC41” or “utility” into the search box to find a list of items on sale on the Discover Vintage marketplace. 
At the time of writing, two traders have CC41 cami knickers on offer! Take a look at the items from Adorn Vintage and Mama J Vintage Goods right now and keep an eye out for more in-demand utility clothing pieces available in the future.